Seasons of fasting have breathed life into the Church for millennia. These days, most Catholics just stick to Lenten devotions but other seasons of fasting used to form an essential and consistent part of the liturgical cycle. Fasting strengthens the soul and prepares us for feasting.
St. Michael’s Lent
In the medieval church, seasonal Ember days, spring Rogation days, Lent, and Advent made up the regular fasts of the liturgical season but in the 14th century, St. Francis added another season of fasting to the Catholic calendar: St. Michael’s Lent.
While it’s never been an official season in the Church, the devotional practice of participating in St. Michael’s Lent was extremely popular in traditional Catholicism. Inspired by St. Francis, devout Catholics said farewell to summer and stepped into the harvest season with fasting and prayer.
These days, our church is aching and we can all feel it. This isn’t the first time the Church has struggled and cried out. Almost 800 years ago the saint called to rebuild the medieval Church started fasting like Christ for the Church. As Christ went into the desert to fast and pray, Francis lived a desert life in imitation. He threw himself into Lent and into the penances of Advent. In the summer, Saint Francis began practicing another season of penance that was soon named St. Michael’s Lent.
As soon the as the feast of the Assumption ended, St. Francis stepped into his second Lenten season. It lasts from the 16th of August until the Feast of St. Michael (now the feast of the Archangels) on September 29th. Uniting the Assumption of the Mother of God with the Feast of the Archangel, Michael.
The fast was created to honor the Blessed Virgin and St. Michael – the Queen of Heaven and the standard-bearer of Her Angelic Host – and to entrust the Church and the world to both these powerful intercessors.
While few Catholics know about St. Michael’s Lent today, and even fewer practice this devotion, it’s popularity is growing fast. Every year, more Catholics are discovering St. Francis’ devotion, and every year, more are choosing to participate. We have so much to pray for and so much to fast for. The Church is full of agonies. What better way to be a light in the darkness all around us than to devote a second season to prayer and penance.
Michaelmas & Modernity
In 1886, Pope Leo XIII added a prayer to St. Michael to the prayers commonly said after Mass. The prayer, widely know today:
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle, be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him we humbly pray. And do thou O Prince of the Heavenly Host, cast into hell Satan and all evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen
While it is rarely said publicly after Mass now, many devout Catholics continue to pray privately to Saint Michael. The prayer itself is often said to have been inspired by a vision Pope Leo had of demons gathering around Rome.
The Pope requested an increase in devotion to Saint Michael, and for the prayer to be recited at the end of Mass. There is a longer version of Pope Leo’s prayer to the Archangel as well. The Pope hoped to increase devotion to St. Michael as our defender against the attacks of Satan. Like the observation of St. Michael’s Lent, consistently calling on St. Michael is a powerful way to shake off the lethargy of the age and fill our lives with devotion.
Michaelmas, or the feast of St. Michael, is the primary autumnal feast in the Western Church. Christmas and Easter are, of course, still the definitive feasts of winter and spring. Summer and fall though, seem to have lost their primary celebrations.
Long ago, Saint John’s Day was the primary feast of the summer, pointing forward to the birth of Christ. Michaelmas points toward Easter and the triumph of the Heavenly Hosts over the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
Like Christmas and Easter, people prepared for these feasts intensely. St. Francis, arguably one of the most intense saints in the history of the Church, created a devotion to link the feast of his beloved Mother, Mary with that of his beloved protector, St. Michael.
The Meaning of Months
In the Catholic calendar, the month of August is devoted to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and to the Blessed Sacrament, while September is devoted to the 7 Sorrows of the Mother of God. As we participate in St. Michael’s Lent, we’re able to be present in these months and unite our penances to the Heart of Mary.
These are devotions designed for fasting. In a time when only one-third of Catholic believe in the True Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, a month devoted to Him ought to include acts of reparation.
In a month devoted to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and a month devoted to Her Sorrows likewise call for reparation. One of the joys of offering reparations through St. Michael’s Lent, is in the opportunity to do so joyfully.
St. Francis is known for his joy and playfulness, even more so than his fasting. Most of his adult life was spent in profound fasting and abstinence, but he fasted with overwhelming and infectious joy. Despite hardships and sorrows, his joy was apparent. During this period of fasting and prayer, we have the opportunity to join with him in his joy-filled devotions. We have the opportunity to be changed, deeply, by surrendering ourselves to the Mother of God and St. Michael.
How to Make A Little Lent
It’s likely you’re reading this after this year’s St. Michael’s Lent has already begun. If you’re like me, you might be feeling attracted to the idea of jumping in any way, but overwhelmed by the thought of changing plans and being “late to the game”.
If that’s the case, take a second look at our inspiration, St. Francis. Jumping in, late to the game but full of enthusiasm was what he did. Constantly. From stripping naked in the cathedral to running off in pursuit of martyrdom, St. Francis jumped first and worried about formalities later, if at all
In some ways, he reminds us of the Rich Young Man in the Gospels. The young man (who pious tradition often names St. Mark himself), asks what he must do to be saved. But when Christ tells him to sell all he has and give it to the poor, the young man goes away sad.
Francis hears the same calling and sells not only his own belongings but many of his father’s as well! Whether you have to take a few days to prepare for St. Michael’s Lent, perhaps delaying your start to the Feast of the Queenship of Mary on August 22nd; or jump in enthusiastically from the start, you can make a holy, little Lent.
Don’t let a little delay hold you back. Join in St. Francis’ Little Lent, the Lent of St. Michael, this year. If you’re a day, a week, or even a month late, you can still offer the time you have to Christ in honor of His Mother and St. Michael. Don’t let the opportunity to offer up something this season for the Church, and for your brothers and sisters in Christ pass you by.